By B. Simm
Jenny Lea and Mikey J Blige started I M U R as an unnamed, unplanned partnership in 2015 trading beats and vocals back and forth over the internet. At the time, Lea was looking for a producer for her solo singer-songwriter project, but things took a quick escalation when the two were booked for Shambhala Music Festival. They decided to put together (self-record, produce, and release) an EP and live act all within a two-month period. Their ambitions paid off, and after seeing some Billboard success from the release of the EP Slow Dive, they added former tour mate and friend Amine Bouzaher to the group creating a more dynamic range that in turn produced a well-rounded, exciting, live act.
You’ve probably been asked this question umpteen times, but I’m curious about the origins of the band name… I AM YOU ARE, or I M U R. What did you want to convey?
Lea: I M U R originally came from passing by the book, I Am You, You Are Me by Anu French, in a used bookstore. We loved how that encompassed us at the time, very different people, yet so connected. We want to convey that message of unity, the idea that art is indistinguishable from the audience, the creation of collective consciousness.
There’s quite a lot of different musical genres floating around in I M U R. Could you elaborate on how you brought a few of these styles together? For instance, there’s an obvious jazzy-R&B element fused with breezy trip-hop and electronic beats. A lot of ground covered there in just those two regions. What came first, the jazzy-R&B or breezy e-beats? Could you describe a little about the inspiration, planning and architecture that goes in your music?
Blige: When I was a kid listening to RapCity on MuchMusic I was just in it for the beats. Same with JT and D-child, even Britney. It was all about the production in my eyes (or ears?). When dubstep came across the water in 2008 I was getting out of my screamo phase and heavy electronic music was a natural progression. I figured out how to make bass wobbles in Garage Band and was so hooked. So the R&B definitely came first, then the beats. But now I am working my way backwards from electronic music into what good R&B and pop production means. The inspiration still comes from both sides of the spectrum, we’re a strictly anti-binary band. IT’S A SPECTRUM OK!
Even though there’s also a strong pop feel to your songs, you don’t seem to be trying to write a commercial pop song that’s going to explode on the radio. While I’m sure you’d love the success of a hit record, I get the sense it needs to be on your terms, your definition of pop. Would I be correct in saying you’re trying to redefine pop?
Lea: I don’t think we’ve ever thought, “Hey, let’s go redefine pop music”… we just know what we like and what we don’t like. We want to make music that will make you feel, evoke emotion, and move you. There should be no rules when it comes to creativity, and art isn’t necessarily meant to make you feel comfortable. If we make you feel uncomfortable, that means there was enough tension to create a dynamic. We want to pull you out of a whistling state of mind, and invite you to engage. Nothing against current pop music, it does well for obvious reasons, but I personally feel a lot of it lacks authenticity. We want to create timeless music. We could make music to find fans, or we can make music to find the right fans for us, and develop real, honest, long lasting relationships in the process.
I M U R has been referenced to ‘90s hip-hop/R&B… I’d say it goes a little deeper and further back than that. Dream pop in the vein of This Mortal Coil, and the sexy, sultry sway of Sade. And then there’s a real New Yorkish jazz-scat-rapping that sometimes weaves in and out. Jenny can you talk a little about your vocal approach… influences, inspiration, where you want to take it to?
Lea: I grew up in a musical family, so I was always trying to find the harmony line when car singing on road trips. As a child/youth, I was listening to Mariah Carey, Salt-n-Pepa, and Lauryn Hill. I was heavily influenced by whatever my big brother was listening to, so as I got older I got really into West Coast hip-hop, psychedelic funk, and R&B. I’ve always found playing with harmonies and rhythm to be a very simple way to take a song from a solid base, to something totally unique and captivating. Going forward, I want to focus on that even more. Playing around with five part plus harmonies, and really messing around with rhythmic patterns to compliment a beat. There’s nothing I love more than challenging myself on stage to live-loop a complicated harmony line, such a rush.
Also Jenny, I watched the video discussion for the release of your single, “Miss You Hate You”, and your decision to leave the bottle behind. Quite confessional. Super smooth, seductive music, but a dark side to what the song is really about. How far do you delve into that with I M U R, are there any other tension song-stories like “Miss You Hate You”?
Lea: I love pairing dark lyrics to a more light hearted beat, I think it can make the pill a little easier to swallow, and also helps me feel like I’m not such a fucked up person, like, “Hey let’s just dance it off, K?” Heaps of our songs embody this. Pretty much any song off Slow Dive, as I was at the peak of a downward spiral after being hit by a car, most of the lyrics are VERY raw. “Bumps”, off Little Death, is about the realization I had about my drinking problem. The “dream I had last night”, was a real, reoccurring dream, and I wrote that song over my first sober Christmas (which I spent sad and alone). Our upcoming EP, THIRTY33, is much more about overcoming and feeling empowered, while still remaining true to our introspective style.
Finally, how does it all dovetail together on stage? Are you playing to pre-programmed tracks or weaving them in and out during the songs. Without getting too technical, how does the magic happen live?
Blige: Our live set has been constantly evolving over the past three years. It’s been a roller-coaster ride of technical headaches, fine attention to detail, and pure elation when it all comes together. We do as much as physically possible live as we’re all multi-instrumentalists, this includes electric guitar, bass, electric violin, keys, and electric drums. We use a combination of triggering different sections of the songs with pre-programmed tracks, loop pedals, and live performance. Once we get comfortable playing the written stuff, we’re able to embellish and jam on sections, as we keep all the composition live allowing us to improvise and keep things fresh. We also love to remix our older stuff and cover songs to allow different energy levels for different kinds of sets. The biggest thing that we’ve learned over the last couple years on the festival circuit is that shit happens when you’re doing live electronic music and you’ve gotta be able to roll with the punches!
I M U R will perform at Circle Carnival on Saturday, Sept. 8. Their new single “Miss You Hate You” can be found at www.imurmusic.com.